A mother of three has been jailed for leaving a gun where her five-year-old son could grab it, load it and shoot his younger sister — an ordeal the girl was lucky to survive.
Justice John Menzies also remarked that the woman’s husband was lucky that charges against him were dropped — both parents were equally to blame for maintaining a household where guns and ammunition were stored throughout the house within easy reach.
A longtime hunter himself, Menzies said the shooting was predictable and he couldn’t understand what the couple was thinking.
"It’s a mindset, it’s a culture that I do not understand and I am not prepared to condone," Menzies remarked in Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench on Tuesday as he sentenced Krista Lachapelle to eight months jail followed by 18 months probation for criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
Lachapelle left a rifle within reach of her five-year-old son who loaded it with a .22-calibre bullet from a drawer and shot his four-year-old sister through her bedroom door.
Crown attorney Grant Hughes said that on the afternoon of Nov. 26, 2011, RCMP were called to the Souris hospital where the girl had been rushed by family.
Shot by her brother at the family’s RM of Whitewater home southwest of Elgin, the bullet had passed right through her lower abdomen.
In critical condition, the child was transferred to Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg where she underwent emergency surgery to remove 20 to 30 centimetres of intestine.
The bullet was later found in the girl’s bedroom, lying on the floor near her doll house.
For four to five days the family wasn’t sure the girl would live, defence lawyer Bob Harrison said. Doctors placed her in an induced coma for five days, and told the family that if she got an infection, she could die within 48 hours.
Court heard that while the girl is left with a scar, she has otherwise since recovered. Her brother, however, blames himself to this day.
Krista Lachapelle’s husband, Daniel Lachapelle, wasn’t home at the time of the shooting but was called by his wife and was home later the same afternoon when police arrived.
Hughes said officers noted the house was in "disarray" and "unsanitary" and they found weapons and ammunition throughout.
In total, from the home police seized 300 rounds of various calibres of ammunition (which were in plain view or in an unlocked cupboard or drawer) and five guns.
There was a spent .22-calibre bullet casing on the kitchen floor, and a bullet hole in the door of the girl’s bedroom where a small amount of blood was found.
A .308-calibre rifle lay on the bed in the master bedroom. In the closet of that room was a muzzle-loader rifle, and another rifle.
In an open closet in the kitchen, police found a 16-gauge shotgun and the .22-calibre rifle that was used in the shooting.
On top of the fridge, was a magazine full of live rounds for a .308-calibre rifle, and a half-full box of 22-calibre bullets.
In the basement, there was assorted hunting gear on a table, including a bow and crossbow with their arrows and bolts, and assorted ammo.
"All of these items were in clear view and were easily accessible to anyone who entered the home," Hughes said.
Hughes said there was no evidence that the guns had been locked up, and there were no trigger locks in the house. Nor was there any locking storage container, such as a gun safe.
Three sharpened replica Samurai swords were also found in the house, and two bags that contained a total of 20 grams of marijuana.
During his interview with police, the boy who fired the shot drew pictures of guns and talked about his dad’s guns being in the kitchen closet.
He also demonstrated how to load a gun, and said he’d gotten the bullet that he fired out of a drawer. It’s believed that drawer was one in the kitchen from which police removed an assortment of other ammunition.
Krista Lachapelle told police that there were five guns in the house to be used for different hunting seasons.
She said her son was stubborn, and on the day of the shooting he wanted to go hunting and believed he was big enough to handle the rifle. The boy said he’d already put a bullet in the gun.
She said the .22-calibre rifle used in the shooting was always kept in a closet off of the kitchen, which was secured with an "eye-and-hook" lock.
But the boy could climb on a chair and unfasten it, and Lachapelle said she took the rifle out of the closet so her son couldn’t get it and took it down the hall. She said the gun wasn’t loaded when she checked it.
She put the gun down — either on the bed, or leaning with its barrel down and its action open — while she changed her six-month-old daughter’s diaper.
It would have been easy for her five-year-old boy to load the gun with the action open and gravity on his side. There were bullets all over the house, she said.
Lachapelle said her son and his four-year-old sister had been playing in another room when she heard a thud and discovered her daughter had been shot.
Daniel Lachapelle admitted that he knew the guns weren’t stored properly.
Initially, husband and wife were both charged, but it was Krista who pleaded guilty in February to a single count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
All charges against Daniel, including five counts of careless storage of a firearm, were dropped.
Hughes said both parents were equally to blame, but the Crown didn’t want to deprive the couple’s three children of both parents.
"The offer was for one to plead guilty and the decision was left up to Mr. and Mrs. Lachapelle as to which one would enter a guilty plea," Hughes said.
Following court, Harrison said that decision was a personal one made between the couple.
Hughes asked Menzies to impose a one-year jail term followed by probation, while Harrison asked that his client serve a 90-day intermittent sentence on weekends.
As this was a serious personal injury offence, a sentence of house arrest wasn’t available.
Krista, 26, cried as she apologized in court and said she hopes her children don’t blame themselves for her mistake.
"I just don’t know how in the world I can ever make it up to them, that I hurt them. I was supposed to be the one to protect them," she said.
Menzies said it was "astounding" that — even though a five-year-old with knowledge of firearms, and a desire to use them, lived in the home — guns and ammo were easily accessible.
He said a jail sentence was needed to drive home the message that weapons need to be properly stored.
Following the shooting, the Lachapelles and their children had moved to British Columbia. Krista will serve her time in a Manitoba jail, unless she gets a transfer.
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